That ever so cliché saying ‘nerves of steel’ turns out to be none more truer than in sport.
What about nerves? That butterfly in the tummy feeling before you play the first point or maybe it hits you at the panicle moment of a match and will decide the entire result. Be it a point, a match or an overall tournament win there’s no controlling the nerves from happening, it’s about what you do with them that makes the difference.
There was a period of time during my junior years that the first game was so difficult because I was afraid of being nervous. Relating that scary butterfly feeling with negativity and placing doubt in my mind about how well I’m going to play or what the outcome will be. The pressure, the stress, the anxiety built up and it was a fast sneaky butterfly indeed! It would take me anywhere between 5 points and the entire first game to settle the nerves. It’s even cost me a match or two.
To make things worse depending on the outcome of each point the negative thoughts would become more or less. The feeling would begin to vanish with each rally or shot in my mind that was played well. Also, if I wasn’t playing to some level of expectation the negativity would grow and my squash would greatly suffer. My body would stiffen with nervous energy as things became worse and it was a quick spiral down from there.
It wasn’t until I got a bit older, gained a little maturity, to realise that if you can harness the nervous adrenaline and channel it in a positive way it can win you points and give you confidence. Accepting that it is ok to feel nerves as a normal state of mind was a difficult but crucial lesson. Pushing towards positive self talk and repeating to yourself ‘you can do this’. Instead of the performance anxiety and the unknown sense of self I had at the beginning of the match I was able to be centred and truly be ‘ready’ to play competitive squash right from the first serve.
Now, it’s about identifying what is creating the nerves and negative thoughts to quickly eliminate or control them in a way that can be beneficial. In most cases reducing the amount of anxiety I place on myself from pressure and expectations. My personality loves to be in a controlled environment so everything I do is relevant to the feeling of having control to limit the stress.
The best thing for this is to have a routine, an organised pre-match preparation. Everyone’s is different there is no right or wrong, only what works for you. My warm up routine can be short or long as it has various elements to achieve the best mental peace-Not too much, not too little, just the right amount of anxiety.
It can be obtained mentally or physically and often by using both forms you get the best preparation. For me it can be simple as picking a spot to sit between games, so I know I have a place breathe or making sure I have a towel and water bottle out the back. In the past I’ve tried more complicated routines that included mental warm ups like meditating and visualising.
Physically doing a warm up routine release some of the anxiety or better called nervous energy. Doing a particular number of runs, exercises, stretches, dynamic movements and specific warm up tasks can help the body relax and warm the muscles up to prepare for performance.
Everybody gets nervous and sometimes the win or loss can be a result of who handles it better. Don’t be afraid of the feeling but channel it in a positive way and allow yourself the best possible chance of playing well and winning.
Overall, Adrenaline has been proven to help enhance the body’s levels of performance, moving a little faster, lasting a little longer, playing one more point than before. This theory was what convinced me that being nervous is a GOOD thing.